“Leonard and Hungry Paul” by Ronan Hession

This is an utterly charming, sweet, heartwarming novel about two shy men — Leonard and Hungry Paul. Why he is called “Hungry” is never explained. Both are single and both continue to inhabit their parents home — a deed that in itself is unusual for adult men. Leonard ghostwrites children’s encyclopaedias and genuinely loves his work as these kinds of books gave him joy in his childhood. He is passionate about his writing and factchecking. Whereas Hungry Paul likes to be mostly at home with his parents and sometimes is called in to help with the local postoffice. Leonard has recently lost his mother and misses her but continues to meet Hungry Paul regularly. The friends meet in peaceful silence and are happy to have meandering conversations while playing board games. There is a gentleness to the story which seems to reflect the slow, ordinariness of their lives. But it does not rankle anyone, least of all the characters themselves. They are at peace being who they are. A sentiment that Leonard shares when wooing his soon-to-be girlfriend Shelley. He reminds her that anyone can say beautiful things at any point but that is not real and does not prove anything. Most importantly he says, “I am not scared to be myself.”

This novel is full of lovely insights about character and of course creating books, such as:

Encyclopaedias were books you were meant to immerse yourself in. They created their own worlds with magical pairings of writers and illustrators, using short exciting prose with memorable tableaux, drawn in a way that was meant to look lifelike but not so detailed that a young seven-year-old couldn’t attempt to copy the picture themselves. Yes, they were factual books, but they weren’t just books of facts. They were storytelling books that used the world around us merely as a starting point, as kindling for a child’s imagination.

He had always pictured the author and illustrator as intrepid, inseparable friends who wrote the books about facts they had discovered themselves. The books were written and illustrated with such a personal touch that it was hard to imagine that the people involved had not actually seen all the animals and shared campfires with all the tribes in the pictures. As a child, they showed him what life could be like: an adventure undertaken in the name of curiosity alone. He had resolved to do everything in those books: climb Mount Everest, swim in a shark cage, walk on a tightrope over Niagara Falls, and pull himself out of quicksand.

( pp. 63-64)

Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession is a sleeper hit for Bluemoose Books— it is the perfect healing read during the pandemic. It has generated a lot of chatter on social media with everyone who has read it, recommending it to others, creating the best kind of buzz: word-of-mouth publicity. No wonder it has been selected as the 2021 One Dublin One Book choice in April!

14 February 2021

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